Thirty years ago today the space shuttle Discovery launched with the Hubble Space Telescope onboard. It was placed into low Earth orbit the next day. Despite the problems that were discovered when the first pictures came down, Hubble became an astonishing success. Not only has it given us over 1,400,000 observations which have revolutionized astronomy, the crewed space shuttle missions to repair and later repeatedly upgrade the instruments on Hubble have been a truly amazing example of what a trained crew can accomplish in space.
In honor of that 30-year anniversary, NASA, ESA, and STSci have released this image of “the Cosmic Reef.” In it we see NGC 2020 (the large, red nebula) and NGC 2014 (the smaller, blue nebula).
These star-forming regions are part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of ours that is 163,000 light years away.
In addition, a video about the image has been released by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
This means a lot to me, for so many reasons. Among them is the fact that for the 25th anniversary of Hubble’s launch, I attended my fifth NASA Social, this one in Washington, D.C. For that event, NASA released this image of Westerlund 2.
When this picture was first revealed to the world, it was displayed on a huge video screen right over my head in the lobby of the Newseum,
I was sitting in the second row, behind three astronauts, one of whom was the head of NASA at the time.
(Astronaut and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was seated in front of me – he was a crew member on STS-31 which launched Hubble thirty years ago. Loren Shriver was seated at right – he commanded STS-31. Scott Altman is the one on the left who was walking toward us – he was the mission commander for STS-109 and STS-125, the fourth and fifth Hubble servicing missions.)
That afternoon was spent at Goddard where, among other über cool activities, I got to hold and play with one of the actual tools that was used in space to do perform one of the instrument upgrades.
Oh, and we got to see the Hubble’s successor, the Webb Space Telescope, which should launch next year.
Yeah. That was a pretty great day.
So, Happy Birthday, Hubble! Here’s to a few more years of service, and maybe even more if us clever little apes can figure out a way to service you again even without the Space Shuttle!